Telstra’s New Wi-Fi Network: Everything You Need To Know

Two years after closing off its previous Wi-Fi service, Telstra is once again going to start running Wi-Fi hotspots — and it wants to use your home ADSL connection as part of it. How will that work and what will it mean for customers?

First things first: while Telstra has announced this today, it isn’t going to actually happen until 2015. Given that other changes might happen before that date (most notably with the NBN), take it all with a grain of salt — especially as we don’t yet have prices for everything.

So these are the basic elements of the plan, which is based on technology developed by Spanish telco Fon:

  • New routers — branded as Telstra Gateway Max and on sale now for $210 — will be deployed which allow you to share some of your existing bandwidth with others, effectively turning you into an individual hotspot which is part of the Telstra network. The routers will support HFC, ADSL and NBN, and CEO David Thodey said it could be upgraded to use 4G as well in the future. The network will run as 802.11ac. Some existing models will be able to made sharing-compatible via a firmware upgrade (Telstra suggests 500,000 existing models will be able to do this).
  • Telstra will build 8000 new hotspots in cafes, community centres and other locations. It hopes the combination of these with individuals will create 2 million hotspots across the country.
  • The scheme will also offer access to 12 million Fon hotspots overseas. Thodey said this would also be at no extra charge, but the announcement release suggests merely that sign-in will be easier. This detail probably won’t be clear until domestic pricing is announced.

So why would you offer up part of your bandwidth? That’s what will grant you access to other hotspots. In effect, you’ll be able to use your own broadband allowance even when you’re not at home. (Telstra says mobile customers will eventually be able to use their allowance, but initially it’s only for broadband customers.) It’s an opt-in scheme — you can stay entirely locked off — but its success will depend on Telstra persuading its customers to open up their networks.

One obvious concern there is security. Telstra says the public access side will have “normal Wi-Fi security”, though it didn’t provide details. Another issue is that you might not want your own bandwidth reduced. “Part of the smarts of the modem is that it allocates you your service and then manages people coming in from the community,” Thodey said at the launch.

Non-Telstra customers will also be able to purchase a day pass to use the service, though once again prices haven’t been announced beyond saying it will be “small”.

Like the sound of this? Worried about the security risks? Figure you’re still better off with a 4G hotspot or a tethered phone? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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